Goodbye Wood, Hello Cardboard




One small team at Harley-Davidson’s continuous improvement idea eliminated wood shipping pallets, improved safety, saved money and reduced Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operation’s landfill contribution.

The Harley-Davidson manufacturing site in Menomonee Falls, WI ships powertrains in kit form to all Harley-Davidson international manufacturing sites. Two members of the Pilgrim Road Complete Knock Down (CKD) operation had an idea to move from heavy, splinter-prone wood pallets to lighter recyclable cardboard pallets.

One of the biggest problems with wood pallets was if they were damaged in transit to an international location, the pallet was held up in that country’s customs inspection process. This in turn would delay the delivery of powertrains to the H-D factory. Wood pallets can also become moldy while traveling in humid climates, which can cause health and additional customs inspection issues. Waiting and defect wastes were holding up production and something needed to be done.

How the team improved the process
A team of very skilled individuals at Harley-Davidson worked through a lot of problem solving and used process mapping to determine how best to resolve the issues. Using Plan Do Check Act cycles, the team tested new potential pallets. The group conducted three trials of 45 pallets with the Brazil factory, which receives the greatest quantity of CKD product from Pilgrim Road. The team monitored the Brazil plant’s satisfaction during the trials, and as a result, changed to lighter, safer and mold-free cardboard pallets.   

Results of this improved process

  • Corrugated pallets are 100-percent splinter, nail and mold free, with the weight reduced by 70 percent from the wooden version. 
  • Waiting and defect wastes at international customs were reduced to almost zero.
  • Pilgrim Road now realizes annual cost savings of $8,000. 
  • Pallets are 100-percent recyclable, which reduces carbon (CO²) emissions in the supply chain.
  • This improvement has potential for duplication across the company.